Michael Moore is never one to mince words and he didn’t hesitate to “tell it like it is”—at least from a social justice perspective—during his visit to WMU’s Miller Auditorium on Wednesday, April 6.
Addressing a crowd of about 3,000 people who seemed quite in tune with him throughout the talk, he thinks that Governor Rick Snyder should be prosecuted for the “crime” of allowing the Flint water debacle occur.
“Flint is not suffering from a water crisis,” said Moore. “Water is really just a weapon. It is a race crime.”
Moore said that the governor’s decision to replace elected local leadership with emergency managers in cities like Flint that have a lot of poor people, many of whom are African American, is the problem.
“From Day 1 people were complaining they had bad water,” he said, “and there were no representatives for them to go to for help. Only the emergency manager, who should really be called ‘master’ or ‘overlord.’”
Moore contended that the reason lead ended up in the people’s water was that Michigan government gave the rich a $1 billion tax cut and had to reduce services elsewhere to balance the budget. About $15 million was saved when it was decided that Flint’s water should come from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron via Detroit.
Moore, who grew up in Flint, said that the Flint River had been a dumping ground for General Motors, DuPont and other industries for a long time.
Moore is against sending water bottles to Flint residents because it doesn’t come close to solving the problem.
“People use 50 to 80 gallons of water per day for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc.,” he said. “There are 100,000 people living in Flint, so it would take 20 million bottles of water per day to meet their water needs.”
Moore pointed out that President Barack Obama still hasn't declared Flint a federal disaster zone, and that US Senator Mike Lee of Utah rejected giving Flint disaster aid because he said it was a manmade disaster, not a natural disaster.
“What it really is is a form of ethnic cleansing,” said Moore. “It is an act of terror.”
Moore severely criticized the media’s coverage of the story when they featured one backhoe digging up lead pipes at one house where a pregnant woman presumably lived.
“See how good Lansing is?” he blasted. “What’s happened since? Nothing!”
He called for the Army Corps of Engineers to replace the lead pipes from each of the affected homes and the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to perform tests.
His insights about fear and ignorance dominated the second half hour of Moore’s talk, which was only supposed to last 20 minutes.
Moore said he cried when Obama was elected, but he was embarrassed to be a Michigander because the state legislature voted to ban same sex marriage in 2004. However, 11 years later it was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Change happened quickly with gay marriage because it didn’t come from the top down,” he said. “It happened because so many gay people came out and told their parents, friends and co-workers. It’s hard to hate when you actually know a person. So many did that, and it changed people who had formerly lived out of fear and ignorance of gay people.”
Ignorance is playing into the fears people have on many levels today, said Moore, and there is a move by the establishment to keep people ignorant.
“They have defunded the schools. They charge too much for college and then make graduates go into debt. They reduce the media into the piss poor pool that it is. That’s why fear comes out of ignorance.”
To demonstrate the extent of ignorance going on in America, Moore mentioned that Ivy League seniors were asked in a multiple choice test when the Civil War took place and only 49 percent got it right.
A National Geographic poll taken in 2006 indicated that 70 percent of 18-year-olds could not find Iraq on a map.
“We shouldn’t invade countries that our people can’t find on a map!” he shouted.
Then he got into the outcomes of fear and ignorance.
“I’m so sad that Kalamazoo was added to the Columbine list,” he said. “Why don’t Canadian gun owners shoot people like we do in the United States?” This was the same question he posed in his film, “Bowling for Columbine.”
“There are just as many guns in Canada as in the USA, although Canadians have hunting rifles while Americans have a variety of weapons,” he said. “Kids watch the same violent movies and they come from single parent homes. The shootings are happening in the suburbs and the rural communities where there are the lowest crime rates, and the shooters are consistently white males.”
Moore contends that people are fearful because they are continually seeing images of fear on TV news. He pooh-poohed mental health as the reason for the shootings.
"We have a mental health problem and it's unfair for the millions, the tens of millions, who need mental health help to say that they're possibly the problem of our safety," he said. "That's a lie." His comment drew loud applause and cheers from the audience.
Adam Lanza, the shooter of the 20 children and five staff members at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT, was seeing two psychologists, said Moore. The media didn’t say that or the fact that his father was a vice president at General Electric.
“The media decide how to position a story,” he said. “They didn’t tell us that a multi-millionaire attacked the United States on 9/11 either. They referred instead to his religion. This is all done to create fear in ignorant people. So here’s the equation: ignorance causes fear, which leads to hate and ends up as violence.”
Moore then turned to the 2016 presidential election.
He likes Hillary Clinton and admires her for being among the women of the 1970s and 80s who turned the tide for feminism. He is even sad about the bad treatment she received as First Lady. However, he voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary because he is afraid Hillary “took the soup.” This Irish phrase refers to the potato famine where Catholics accepted meals from Protestant soup kitchens if they renounced their Catholic beliefs.
He doesn’t like that she buddied up to Wall Street and voted for the Iraq War. He fears she will get the country into another war just to convince those who ridiculed her 25 years ago that she can bomb the nation’s enemies just as well as any man.
“Bernie beats Trump with women alone,” said Moore. “According to the polls he beats all other GOP contenders while Hillary beats Trump and is tied with Cruz.”
Moore thinks Bernie would make a great president because he’s proposing that the United States do what the countries in his latest film, “Where to Invade Next,” have been doing for decades. Germany, for example, has free university education, free health care, it builds cars and it has accepted one million refugees.
“The difference between our country and the others is that they operate under ‘we’ while we operate under ‘me.’ It’s not that they’re better than we are, but that they live in a kinder, safer and less fearful society than we do. They figured out a long time ago that they can get something from that approach—and we could get the same damn thing if we did, too.”
In the end, Moore advised his audience to “vote for the person with your heart and your conscience.”
Although Moore is a biting social critic and satirist, he remains optimistic and hopeful.
“I got that from the nuns and priests who taught me at St. John’s in Davison,” said Moore, who is an Irish Catholic and proud of it.
His seventh grade teacher, Sister Janet Kurtz, CSJ, was on hand to greet Moore and participate in a panel discussion after his talk.
“He is the same person who stood up for justice back when he was in my classroom in the late 1960s,” said Kurtz.
This event was sponsored by the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations in collaboration with the Lee Honors College, School of Communication, Department of Sociology, Center for the Humanities, Center for Ethics, Office for Sustainability, Medical Humanities Program, College of Arts and Sciences and the Kalamazoo Islamic Center.
It was the Walker Institute’s kick-off for a series of upcoming community forums and scholarly discussions titled: “Growing Together or Pulling Apart? Making Public Policies that Work for Everyone." Topics will include immigration, criminal justice reform, housing segregation by race and class, equality of opportunity, and poverty and education.